I was helping my daughter study the other night and, as usual, she provided wisdom and inspiration in the dad department. Here are a few things I learned from her and a few I picked up on my own that might help other dads develop good study skills in their kids.
1. Turn off the TV – a confession: I studied every night while watching Mash and Gilligan’s Island reruns and I guess it didn’t kill me. It certainly didn’t help quell the ADD that every adult in the 20th century seems to have. Try though to carve out a space away from too many distractions or at least around the right distractions (see point 2).
2. Hang around while your kids do homework. Perhaps you like this as your wind-down time or watch TV time, but your kids – surprise! – actually will interact more with you if you’re in the room and ready to engage with them.
3. Goof around with your kids. While homework is serious business, there’s nothing that says you can make jokes or use funny voices to illustrate points or help them learn rote concepts. This can be a fun time for both of you
4. Don’t do the homework for them. Even adults sometimes get carried away by how brilliant they are and how easy it is to a third grade math problem. You might look like a genius to your child, but it won’t help him learn the answer. Try to pretend you’re both trying to figure it out together. This way, you can ask leading questions that get your child to see the answer for themselves. If your child gets frustrated, suggest a break and come back and try it again.
5. Be a good role model. Your schedule will dictate how possible this is, but a good situation is to work quietly paying bills or doing some other study-like chore while your kids are working along side you.
6. Use study time to monitor your child’s progress. Most kids, even your little prodigy, should need some help as they work through problems. If your child really isn’t “getting it,” though, make an appointment with the teacher so that you can nip a developing issue in the bud.
Have fun with homework and enjoy the chance to mentor the most important people in your life. Helping with homework can bring up bad memories of school when you were a kid, but with some effort, it can be a fun time to spend with your kids.
Things have changed when I would walk the five miles in the Minnesota snow to get to my third and fourth grade classroom (If I retrace the blocks in my mind, it was probably only 6-7 blocks in reality.) I would not let my own kids at that same age do that walk today on a daily basis. In my mind, I know that the vast majority of abductions and even sexual abuse are that the hands of people who are closest to us and not the hidden pervert on the street corner. About 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics; 250,000 are injured in auto accidents. Still, I fear and try to control the unknown as much as I can.
In this piece in the New York Times, much of what I feel appears to be in the norm.
The fear of abduction by strangers “has become a norm within middle-class parental circles,” said Paula S. Fass, a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America.” “We try to control our fears to the nth degree, so we drop our children off right at school. It’s a confirmation that ‘I’m a good parent.’ ”
In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did, according to data from the National Household Travel Survey. In many low-income neighborhoods, children have no choice but to walk. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose to 55 percent from 20 percent. Experts say the transition has not only contributed to the rise in pollution, traffic congestion and childhood obesity, but has also hampered children’s ability to navigate the world.
In a study of San Francisco Bay Area parents who drove children ages 10 to 14 to school, published this summer in the Journal of the American Planning Association, half would not allow them to walk without supervision, and 30 percent said fear of strangers governed their decision.
I’m surprised that only 41% of kids walked to school in 1969, but I assume that was a function of long distances for a more rural America. In the ’70s, bussing made walking to school a political hot button. Whatever side you were on on that issue, you still had to feel sorry for the kids and families who couldn’t just walk their kids to the neighborhood school. While we all got lectures about taking candy from strangers, I don’t recall much serious worry about the walk to and from school.
In France, our friends regularly let the kids ages 7 or 8 run down to the bakery for a loaf of bread. My daughter at nine doesn’t even like to go to another floor of the house if we’re not there. As much as we’re trying to protect them, I doubt we’re helping them develop life skills by keeping them from doing some things on their own.
You have to love the all-America coda to this story:
Recently, Amy Utzinger, a mother of four in Tucson, Ariz., let her daughter, 7, walk down the block to play with a friend. Five houses. Same side of the street. Afterward, the friend’s mother drove Mrs. Utzinger’s daughter home. “She said, ‘I just drove her back, just in case … you know,’ ” recalled Mrs. Utzinger. “What was I supposed to say? How can you argue against ‘just in case’?”
I understand the mom’s reticence to let the little girl walk home by herself, but I’ll never stop being amazed that someone outside of LA would take the car out to drive five houses away.
I took the day off today to chaperone my son’s pre-k trip to the Pumpkin Patch. I had two other boys to follow around and it felt like a five hour game of hide and seek. Or to mix metaphors, like they were blobs of mercury and could divide and flow into every little space in seconds. Except for my son, of course, the boys were heedless, running wherever their little brains thought they could find pleasure. One second, it was the bouncy house, then the slide, then the hay maze, or the hay ride. I was prepared for a lot of pleasure-oriented seeking, but not the heedless running, oblivious to either my yells or stern lectures. What a change from when I did this three years ago with my daughter’s kindergarten class.
I was one of three dads who took the day off, among perhaps ten other moms. The odds seem to be getting better. All in all, we had a grand time, fitting in all the clichés of autumn harvest, except the Halloween allusions. One of the kindergarten teachers mused, “If aliens landed and saw us out here communing with the hay and pumpkins, what would they conclude? A religious rite, preparation for war (with catapulted orange missiles?), or a harvest of the mainstay of our diet, the nutritious pumpkin. It was better not to dwell on this for too long or it would drain the entertainment value out of it.
The New York Times reports on parents who are foregoing the first year of school, usually known as kindergarten, for a looser, experience-based at home schooling experience.
They are part of a community of like-minded parents who are opting to enrich rather than formally educate their not-yet-school-age children (6 is the age that New York City law requires parents to register their children as home-schooled). They discovered one another through the New York City Home Educators Alliance (nychea.org), a home-schooling bulletin board.
…theirs is an ad hoc, day-by-day exploration into what it means to be a stay-at-home parent and child in an accelerated culture like New York. In a city where the race to be on top can start in infancy, the disconnect between these parents’ choices and the New York City norm is vast, as Ms. Rendell learned recently.
If I had the time and flexibilty, this sounds like an ideal way to continue those care-free years of babyhood on through age 6, with benefits for both mom or dad and for the child.
It’s hard to imagine what goes on in a little one’s mind when he goes to the big school, but you can help him overcome some fears by talking to him before hand.
For example, many kids at pre-school and even kindergarten level, are nervous about the bathroom. Reassure your child that he can ask to go any time. Some kids have accidents at school, and he should be aware that this type of thing can happen, and does happen to a lot of kids. If you have given him strict instructions on other people touching him in the bathroom, make sure he is aware of how changes in caregiving my change that policy, for example if a teacher has to wipe him. Some kids will time their bowel movements to avoid school time. Discuss this with your doctor if it becomes and issue.
Buy clothes for your child with easy closures. No child at this point wants to have to ask their teacher to help them button their pants. Just at the moment you are trying to teach them autonomy, don’t burden them suddenly with shoelaces that need to be tied by an adult.
School is an ideal time to teach about making friends. You don’t have to be a car salesman to know the value of walking right up to someone, pointing to something you have in common (your love of sand or the color of your tennis shoes) and introducing yourself. This is not a skill that comes easily, but kids can learn these skills to, especially if you show them how it works, by introducing yourself to other moms and dads.
Lunchtime might also be stressful, if your child has never had to eat on her own. Many kids get stressed at lunchtime because they don’t have the leisure to drag it out like they do at home. Make sure your child has items that are easy to manipulate on her own rather than complicated foods that need to be reheated and might be hard to eat.
Your child may be scared of other small details that don’t worry you at all. He might think the school nurse means lots of shots. Or the school bus looks like a big scary tunnel he might get lost in and never find his way back home. Explore and discuss things like this with your child by asking him about his likes and dislikes about the school.
With a very small amount of putting yourself in their shoes, you can easily take steps to ease into the transition to school.